We share in the grief and sadness that has gripped India and the world in the aftermath of the monstrous attacks in Mumbai that began on the eve of our Thanksgiving. I cannot conceive of a more cowardly act than attacking and killing unarmed, innocent human beings.
Given the location of the attacks, in Mumbai’s financial districts and leading hotels, it is assumed that the terrorists’ goal was to undermine and weaken India’s economy. The nation earns most of its foreign exchange from U.S., U.K. and European visitors. Now analysts predict India will lose as much as 40% of its annual tourism revenue–up to 20% due to the global economic slowdown compounded another 20% by the recent attacks. And this all at a time when India’s tourism was expected to experience rapid growth between 2007 and 2011.
Unfortunately, we at Academic Travel Abroad have too often over the past decade been asked by travelers to cancel their participation to a given destination in the aftermath of an attack. We completely understand and validate their fears and decision. Yet, more often than not, those who proceed with their plans end up experiencing a very grateful and welcoming destination and people–at a time when foreign friends’ support is more needed than ever.
Taking a trip to a place that has been through a recent trauma is an intensely personal decision which involves many considerations, including risk assessment based on the facts available. For example, we generally discourage travel to destinations where the U.S. Department of State has issued a Travel Warning, though we do feel some Warnings are very politically motivated and inconsistently applied.
In India’s case, our Department of State issued a Travel Alert today. This is described on the official website as designed ”to disseminate information about short-term conditions, generally within a particular country, that pose imminent risks to the security of U.S. citizens. Natural disasters, terrorist attacks, coups, anniversaries of terrorist events, election-related demonstrations or violence, and high-profile events such as international conferences or regional sports events are examples of conditions that might generate a Travel Alert. “ This does not warrant the same caution as a Travel Warning when Americans are actively discouraged from traveling to the country in question. These Warnings are “issued to describe long-term, protracted conditions that make a country dangerous or unstable. A Travel Warning is also issued when the U.S. Government’s ability to assist American citizens is constrained due to the closure of an embassy or consulate or because of a drawdown of its staff.”
The Mumbai attacks have hit at the worst possible time for India’s peak tourism season that runs from October through February. For those of you who had planned a visit to India in January and February, I would recommend caution and careful study of the news, particularly the India-Pakistan relations front, but would hesitate to cancel right away. With increased security across major cities and airports in India, it is likely that travel to India is safer than it was a month ago. So barring any further violence erupting in cities on your itinerary, and heeding the State Department’s advice, proceed with your India travel and remain vigilant. And discover a culture like no other in all its splendor and diversity.
As Lalia Rach, dean of the Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University, was recently quoted as saying: ”… if we were held captive by the possibility of terrorism, Americans wouldn’t be flocking to D.C. for the presidential inauguration. We know we have to go on with our lives.”